This morning I sat in a dental hygienist's chair, cleaning tools in my mouth, tears seeping from under the safety glasses, and I said goodbye to my husband.
In the weeks since Nathan went to heaven I have alternated between acceptance and denial. Sometimes reality is crystal clear: he is gone, and I have to learn to live without him. Other times - most of the time - I come across a picture of him in all his vibrant aliveness and my brain cannot wrap itself around the fact that he is no longer here. Nathan was taken from earth to heaven in a millisecond. I've been assured of that repeatedly. But I wasn't there. I (thankfully) didn't see it happen. I kissed him and waved goodbye as he left for work, and I never saw him again. My Nate, dressed in dark blue pants and a Carolina-blue work shirt with his name embroidered in red, drove away and honked his horn at me in farewell - a final farewell, as it turned out.
As grateful as I am for the ability to "remember him as he was," it makes his absence that much more unreal. My phone rings, and I expect it to be him. I drive down the highway, run errands, nurse Elissa in our bed, and all the time am just waiting to see him pop his head in the doorway or emerge from a crowd or appear around a bend in the road. I've visualized him coming back countless times. I dream that he was gone but now is back again. I know God could say the word and Nate would find himself back on this earth just as suddenly as he left it. And I want that more than I've ever wanted anything in my life. It is so wrong for him not to be here. So wrong to be constantly on the go between two houses, to have our entire life together packed away in boxes, to take our baby girl to the cemetery to visit Daddy when, for other kids, "visiting Daddy" means swinging by the office or cheering from the sidelines of a pickup soccer game.
Until last night, I hadn't made peace with the fact that Nate's time here on earth is finished. I wanted, hoped for, half expected him to come back again. The idea that he is never coming back was, and still is, inconceivable to me. I cannot begin to imagine living years, decades without him, and I don't want to. I hadn't said goodbye. I wasn't willing to relinquish my wishes to God's obviously different and higher purpose. In many ways I was caught between reality and wishful thinking - unable to grieve and heal well because of how hard I willed this not to be true.
Last night, as I unpacked some of our things and tried to squeeze four years of marriage into the bottom level of a townhouse, my eyes fell on one of Nate's Bibles. He had at least four, and this was not one he used very often. I picked it up, not expecting much, and noticed sticky tabs attached to two pages. The Bible fell open to the second tabbed page, and I couldn't breathe. In this barren, barely-used Bible one passage was highlighted several times, in blue and then in green:
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,
and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the
good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous judge,
will award to me on that Day."
- 2 Tim. 4:6-8
Tears streamed down my face as I turned to the second tab. Attached to the story of Gideon in Judges was a sticky note in Nathan's handwriting. He had outlined a sermon he preached to our youth group one Sunday last year, and the words at the bottom took my breath away again. Nate had clearly printed these words:
"We have a race to run; Jesus has conquered death; God will be with you."
Over this past week I've been reading Mary Beth Chapman's Choosing to SEE, recounting the loss of their daughter Maria and the daily choices towards faith and hope they've had to make since. As I read the chapter where the family returned home after the accident and found a specific, healing message that Maria seemed to have left them, I prayed for such a message from Nathan. I was desperate to somehow communicate with him, but it feels like a thick dark veil has been drawn between us since his passing.
Last night that veil was lifted, if only for a moment, and it was as if he took my face in his hands, looked me deep in the eyes with that famous, reassuring smile of his, and gave me his message. It was loud, and chillingly clear. He fought his fight. He finished his race. He has received his crown and his reward. It is time to say goodbye, for now...